Small Space Gardening
The Three Sisters
Part 2 of 2


The Three Sisters
Creative Commons License photo credit: Abri_Beluga

As we discussed previously in Small Space Gardening – The Three Sisters – Part 1 of 2 , The Three Sisters is a great introduction to small space gardening and more specifically to companion gardening. It is also a fantastic way to introduce gardening and growing concepts to children or to anyone that is new to gardening.

As we can see from the following video, Cape Abilities Farm is working with Plimoth Plantation to continue the agricultural tradition of the Wampanoag garden (also known as a three sisters garden). The Wampanoag tribe has been growing corn for about two thousand years.

Cape Abilities Farm employs fifty people with disabilities, and is part of Cape Abilities, a non-profit organization on Cape Cod that has been supporting people with disabilities since 1968.

Below the video we will provide some instructions for planting our own Three Sisters Garden.

Three Sisters Garden

Materials needed

  • The usual gardening tools will be needed for this planting.
    • Prep tools such as spading forks and rakes
    • Measuring tools such as tape measures or rulers
    • Markers for identifying mound locations
    • And of course our seeds (corn, winter squash or pumpkins, and pole beans)

Planting the garden

  • First identify an appropriate location. There should be 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight and the site should have easy access to a water supply.
  • Prepare the soil as with any other gardening effort. Build a mound approximately 12 inches high and somewhere between 18 inches and 36 inches in diameter. Individual planting mounds should should have spacing from other mounds of 3 to 4 feet in all directions.
  • Plant the Corn. Sow 4 to 7 corn seeds in the center of the mound, forming a ring, with the seeds about 6 inches apart. Cover the seeds with an inch of dirt patted down with the palm of the hand and water well. Plants should sprout in about 2 weeks. Thin to 4 plants. In our small space gardening, we can honor the tradition of the Native Americans of giving thanks to the “Four Directions” by orienting the seeds to the north, south, east and west.
  • Plant the beans. When the corn stalks are about 4 inches tall, outline a circle about 6 inches from the corn stalks and plant 6 pole bean seeds. Cover with 1 inch of dirt and water well. The beans should sprout within 1 to 2 weeks. Thin to 3 or 4 plants.
  • Plant the squash or pumpkins. At the same time we are planting our beans, outline a second circle about a foot away from the beans and plant and plant 4 squash or pumpkin seeds. Cover with 1 inch of dirt and water well. Sprouts should appear in about 1 week. Thin to 1 plant.
  • Maintain the garden. Weed around the plants and mound the soil around the base of the corn stalk to provide additional support. Add a high nitrogen fertilizer around the corn stalks when they are knee-high and again when the silks begin to appear. Add compost or aged manure to the soil around the squash or pumpkin plants when fruits begin to appear.

The Three Sisters garden brings a unique bit of our Native American culture to our Small space gardening efforts and provides a harmonious mix of not only physical traits complementing one another but also makes for a balance and nutritious vegetable crop.

For container gardening or pot gardening we will follow the above instructions but thin the corn plants to 1, the bean plants to 2, and use mini pumpkin seeds and then to 1 plant.

Saving the seeds

  • Corn: Allow ears to remain on stalk until husks are dry and turn brown. Peel back the husks and allow to dry in full sun for about a month. Remove the kernels and store in an airtight container.
  • Beans: Leave pods on the plant until brittle and brown. Open the pods and strip out the seeds. Place seeds on a flat surface in direct sunlight to air dry. Place in a dark airtight container.
  • Squash/pumpkins: Remove seeds from the mature plant and follow the instructions above for saving the bean seeds.

Our small space gardening can be physically, mentally, educationally, and culturally enriching to the extent we allow.

Get your Native American Three Sisters seed kit today:

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